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by Dennis Thompson

New York, New Jersey to Quarantine All Travelers With Ebola Contacts

Move follows diagnosis of a New York City doctor, but many experts say rule is excessive
SATURDAY, Oct. 25, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- On Friday, the governors of New York and New Jersey announced strict new quarantine measures for anyone returning via Kennedy and Newark Liberty airports who may have had contacts with Ebola patients in Guinea, Liberia or Sierra Leona.
The measures, which exceed current federal guidelines, mean that people who had such contacts would be tested and kept in quarantine for 21 days, the longest known length of incubation of the Ebola virus.
The rules were announced Friday by New York governor Andrew Cuomo and New Jersey governor Chris Christie, the New York Times reported.
The move came a day after Dr. Craig Spencer, a New York City doctor who recently returned from West Africa, tested positive for Ebola. He is currently in stable condition at Bellevue Hospital, feeling well enough to talk on his cellphone and even do some yoga in his hospital room on Friday, the Times reported.
Spencer had been working with the medical aid agency Doctors Without Borders, helping to treat Ebola patients in Guinea, one of three West African countries hit hard by the disease.
On Saturday, New Jersey officials say that a nurse who had been working with Ebola patients in West Africa and returned via Newark Liberty airport had tested negative for the Ebola virus. However, under the new rules she will still be held under quarantine for the next 21 days, the Times said.
Cuomo and Christie defended the new quarantine measures, which exceed those recommended by many infectious disease experts, including the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. ""A voluntary Ebola quarantine is not enough," Cuomo said. "This is too serious a public health situation."
But others worry that such rules might deter health care personnel from joining the fight against Ebola in West Africa, where staff are desperately needed. According to the Times, the United Nation's emergency Ebola mission says that over 19,000 medical staff are needed by Dec. 1 to fight the widening crisis, but numbers of new doctors, nurses and paramedics in the region remain far too low.
According to Times, Spencer, 33, had returned to New York City from Guinea on Oct. 14, and by 11 a.m. on Thursday morning he had developed a 100.3-degree fever. He immediately alerted Doctors Without Borders. Emergency medical workers in full personal protective gear transported him from his Manhattan apartment to an isolation unit at Bellevue Hospital.
Three people he was in contact with in recent days, including two friends and Spencer's fiancee, have been placed in isolation, the Times reported.
On Tuesday, Spencer visited the High Line elevated park in Manhattan and ate at the Meatball Shop in the city's West Village. On Wednesday, he traveled on two subway lines from Manhattan into the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, visited a bowling alley there and then took a taxi back to Manhattan.
According to the Times, the taxi driver had no direct contact with Spencer and is not considered to be at risk.
Speaking Thursday night at a press conference at Bellevue, Mayor Bill de Blasio stressed that "being on the same subway car or living near a person with Ebola does not in itself put someone at risk."
Out of an abundance of caution, however, the Brooklyn bowling alley has been closed temporarily while health workers visit it, and Spencer's home has been sealed off, the Times said.
According to the Times, Spencer is a fellow of international emergency medicine at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center, and an instructor in clinical medicine at Columbia University.
New York City health commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett said Spencer followed all proper protocols upon his return to New York City and should be praised for the work he did in Guinea. "There's this young guy who went over there, really doing the right thing, the courageous thing, and he handled himself really well," she said. "I don't want anyone portraying him as reckless," the Times reported.
In a Twitter post, she also expressed concern that the new measures would be counterproductive in the international fight against the West Africa Ebola crisis, which now exceeds 10,000 cases and has claimed more than 4,900 lives. "People who go and volunteer, we have to look at how the new quarantine policy would impact them," Bassett said.
But there was also some good news on the Ebola front. Both of the two nurses who fell ill with Ebola at a Dallas hospital have now been declared free of the virus. Nina Pham, 26, left the U.S. National Institutes of Health Clinical Center in Bethesda, Md., Friday and met with President Barack Obama at the White House before returning home.
And Amber Vinson, 29, has been declared Ebola-free after being cared for at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta. She will also return home soon, according to media reports.
Both nurses contracted Ebola after caring for Thomas Eric Duncan, a Liberian national who was the first case of Ebola diagnosed in the United States. Duncan died of the disease at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital on Oct. 8.
More information
For more on Ebola, visit the World Health Organization (http://www.who.int/csr/disease/ebola/en/ ).
SOURCES: Oct. 25, 2014, The New York Times
by Dennis Thompson

Tips for Safe Trick-or-Treating

Make sure costumes are visible, discard homemade goodies, expert advises
SATURDAY, Oct. 25, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Arriving home safe and sound is one of the best Halloween treats of all.
To that end, be sure that costumes and goody bags have reflective strips that improve visibility to drivers, said Dr. Sampson Davis, an emergency medicine doctor at Meadowlands Hospital Medical Center in Secaucus, N.J.
Trick-or-treaters should also carry a flashlight, and costumes should be flame-resistant, Davis said.
He offers these others tips:
If you plan to use makeup, test it on a small area of skin first to ensure it doesn't cause an allergic reaction. Wash makeup off immediately after returning home. Costume accessories should be soft and pliable in order to reduce injury risk. Don't wear decorative contact lenses, which can cause eye infections. Comfortable and supportive footwear can help prevent blisters and sprains. Don't let children eat homemade treats made by strangers and limit the amount of treats they eat at one time. When trick-or-treating, children should stay alert and walk in groups or with a trusted adult.
"The reality is there are predators who use Halloween in particular as a day to disguise themselves when plotting an attack," Davis said. "Safeguard your children by making sure they stick together in a large group and have an adult along to prevent an incident from unfolding."
He reminded trick-or-treaters never to approach or get in a car with a stranger and never enter the home of a stranger. "Halloween is a fun time. Let's make sure we do all that is possible to keep it that way," Davis said in a hospital news release.
If children aren't accompanied by an adult, they should carry a charged cell phone so they can call for help immediately, or provide parents with updates about their location, he said. And kids should know not to text while walking or crossing an intersection.
Monitor how much your kids eat and "filter through the bag of goodies received during trick-or-treating," Davis added.
Discard homemade treats and unwrapped goods, he said. "The risk isn't worth it, as one doesn't know the exact ingredients used in preparation. Prevent possible allergy exposure, bacteria and lastly poison by only allowing wrapped, sealed treats," Davis said.
More information
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about Halloween health and safety (http://www.cdc.gov/family/halloween/ ).
SOURCE: Meadowlands Hospital Medical Center, news release, Oct. 24, 2014
by Dennis Thompson

Experts Predict 'Catastrophic' Ebola Epidemic in West Africa if Aid Delayed

Yale team foresees 90,000 deaths in one Liberian county alone by Dec. 15
THURSDAY, Oct. 23, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- A large influx of international aid is needed, and soon, if West Africa is to avoid tens of thousands of deaths from the widening Ebola crisis, a team of Yale University researchers predict.
Using a specially designed mathematical model, the researchers looked at the possible future of the outbreak in just one densely populated county of hard-hit Liberia -- Montserrado County, home to the capital city of Monrovia.
The researchers said that if international aid isn't delivered to Liberia in sufficient time and quantity, by Dec. 15 Montserrado County will have more than 170,000 cases of Ebola -- 12 percent of its population -- and more than 90,000 deaths.
However, if the international community ramps up efforts by Oct. 31, almost 98,000 of those cases could be avoided.
"Our predictions highlight the rapidly closing window of opportunity for controlling the outbreak and averting a catastrophic toll of new Ebola cases and deaths in the coming months," study senior author Alison Galvani, professor of epidemiology at the Yale School of Public Health, said in a university news release.
"Although we might still be within the midst of what will ultimately be viewed as the early phase of the current outbreak, the possibility of averting calamitous repercussions from an initially delayed and insufficient response is quickly eroding," she added.
What's needed, according to the Yale team, are better diagnosis, treatment and prevention efforts on the ground in Liberia and in the two other countries affected by Ebola, Guinea and Sierra Leone. Essential elements include more Ebola treatment center beds, a fivefold increase in the rapidity at which new Ebola cases are identified, and the distribution of protective kits to households containing anyone already infected to cut the rate of Ebola's spread, the researchers said.
Even if international interventions were to be delayed until Nov. 15, about 54,000 new cases in Montserrado County might still be averted, the researchers said.
According to the latest estimates from the World Health Organization, about 10,000 cases of Ebola have so far been reported in the three affected countries, and more than 4,900 people have died.
Time is of the essence, the researchers said, to prevent the outbreak from exploding into something much less containable.
"The current global health strategy is woefully inadequate to stop the current volatile Ebola epidemic," study co-author Dr. Frederick Altice, professor of internal medicine and public health at Yale, said in the news release. "At a minimum, capable logisticians are needed to construct a sufficient number of Ebola treatment units in order to avoid the unnecessary deaths of tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of people."
The study, funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health, was published online Oct. 23 in The Lancet Infectious Diseases.
More information
For the latest on the West African Ebola outbreak, head to the World Health Organization (http://www.who.int/csr/disease/ebola/en/ ).
SOURCE: The Lancet Infectious Diseases, news release, Oct. 23, 2014
by Dennis Thompson

New York City Ebola Patient in Stable Condition

Three contacts of Dr. Craig Spencer are in isolation; NYC mayor is urging calm
FRIDAY, Oct. 24, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- A New York City doctor who recently returned from West Africa infected with Ebola is in stable condition at Bellevue Hospital, media reports say.
Dr. Craig Spencer had been working with the medical aid agency Doctors Without Borders, helping to treat Ebola patients in Guinea, one of three West African countries hit hard by the disease.
According to The New York Times, Spencer, 33, had returned to New York City from Guinea on Oct. 14, and by 11 a.m. on Thursday morning he had developed a 100.3-degree fever. He immediately alerted Doctors Without Borders. Emergency medical workers in full personal protective gear transported him from his Manhattan apartment to Bellevue Hospital, where he has been since 1 p.m.
Three people he was in contact with in recent days, including two friends and Spencer's fiancee, have been placed in isolation, the Times reported.
On Wednesday, Spencer traveled on two subway lines from Manhattan into the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, visited a bowling alley there and then took a taxi back to Manhattan.
According to the Times, the taxi driver had no direct contact with Spencer and is not considered to be at risk.
Speaking Thursday night at a press conference at Bellevue, Mayor Bill de Blasio stressed that "being on the same subway car or living near a person with Ebola does not in itself put someone at risk."
Out of an abundance of caution, however, the Brooklyn bowling alley has been closed temporarily while health workers visit it, and Spencer's home has been sealed off, the Times said.
According to the Times, Spencer is a fellow of international emergency medicine at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center, and an instructor in clinical medicine at Columbia University.
There was also some good news on the Ebola front. Both of the two nurses who fell ill with Ebola at a Dallas hospital have now been declared free of the virus. Nina Pham, 26, left the U.S. National Institutes of Health Clinical Center in Bethesda, Md., Friday and met with President Barack Obama at the White House before returning home.
And Amber Vinson, 29, has been declared Ebola-free after being cared for at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta. She will also return home soon, according to media reports.
Both nurses contracted Ebola after caring for Thomas Eric Duncan, a Liberian national who was the first case of Ebola diagnosed in the United States. Duncan died of the disease at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital on Oct. 8.
The Ebola outbreak in West Africa has so far killed nearly 4,900 people out of nearly 10,000 reported cases, according to the World Health Organization.
More information
For more on Ebola, visit the World Health Organization (http://www.who.int/csr/disease/ebola/en/ ).
SOURCES: Oct. 23/24, 2014, The New York Times
by Dennis Thompson

Cadavers Beat Computers as Med School Teaching Tool, Study Finds

Researchers say future doctors and nurses learn more from the human body
FRIDAY, Oct. 24, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Cadavers are better than a computer simulation of the human body for teaching anatomy to college students, a new study says.
The findings suggest that cadavers should continue to be used in undergraduate human anatomy courses for future doctors, nurses and other health and medical professionals, according to the researchers.
Their study included almost 240 students in a semester-long undergraduate anatomy course. One group of students learned on a cadaver and were tested on a cadaver. Other students learned on a computer simulation of the human body and were tested on a cadaver, according to the researchers.
The students were tested on being able to identify the parts of the body and to explain how they worked. On average, the students who learned on a cadaver scored 16 percent higher on identifying body parts and 11 percent higher on explaining what the body parts do, compared with those who learned on the computer simulation, the study found.
The difference in average scores was the difference between one grade, study co-author Cary Roseth, an associate professor of educational psychology at Michigan State University, said in a university news release.
The study appears in the September/October issue of the journal Anatomical Sciences Education.
"Our findings indicate that educational technology can enhance anatomy instruction but is unlikely to fully replace cadavers," Roseth said.
Most anatomy courses in the United States still rely on cadavers. But many also use computers to supplement the instruction, according to the researchers. However, there is ongoing debate over whether cadavers are needed at all, and some medical schools in Australia and the U.K. have stopped using cadavers to teach anatomy, according to the study authors.
More information
The U.S. National Library of Medicine has more about anatomy (http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/anatomy.html ).
SOURCE: Michigan State University, news release, Oct. 16, 2014
by Dennis Thompson

Childhood Peanut Allergy May Be Linked to Skin Gene Mutation

Study bolsters the dual-allergen-exposure theory, expert says
FRIDAY, Oct. 24, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Infants with a specific skin gene mutation who are exposed to peanut protein in household dust may be more likely to develop a peanut allergy, according to a new study.
Peanut allergy and other food allergies have been linked to severe eczema, a skin disorder, in early infancy, the U.K. researchers said.
In conducting the study, researchers at King's College London and colleagues examined the amount of peanut protein to which 577 babies were exposed during their first year of life. This was done by measuring the amount of peanut protein in the dust collected by vacuum from the living room sofa in their home. The children were tested for peanut allergy years later when they were 8 and 11 years old. Their DNA was also checked for a specific skin barrier defect, known as an FLG mutation.
Previous studies identified a specific gene that codes for the skin barrier protein, filaggrin. Mutations to this gene, known as the FLG gene, lead to a skin barrier impairment, which is thought to make the body more vulnerable to an allergic reaction.
The study, published this month in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, found that one in five children with peanut allergy had an FLG mutation.
The researchers found that a threefold increase in exposure to peanut protein in dust in the first 12 months of life was associated with a threefold increase in risk for a later peanut allergy. They said, however, exposure to peanut protein in household dust had no effect on children who did not have a skin barrier defect from an FLG mutation.
"Our findings provide evidence that peanut allergy may develop via the skin in children with mutations in the gene that codes for filaggrin which damage the function of this important skin protein," said the study's first author, Dr. Helen Brough, from the department of pediatric allergy at King's College London. "These findings are also an example of how an individual's response to their environment can be modified by their genes," Brough said in a university news release.
"Our study raises the possibility of being able to identify a group of children with FLG mutations through genetic testing in the future, and altering their environmental exposure to peanut early in life to reduce the risk of developing peanut allergy," she added.
The study offers further evidence for the dual-allergen-exposure theory, said the study's senior author, Gideon Lack, also from the King's College London pediatric allergy department. This theory "suggests food allergies develop through exposure to allergens via the skin, likely through a disrupted skin barrier, [and that] consumption of these food proteins early in life builds up tolerance in the body," he said in the news release.
"Previous guidelines recommending that mothers should avoid peanuts during pregnancy and breastfeeding have now been withdrawn. Ongoing studies at King's aim to find if exposure to solids in early infancy might actually help to prevent allergies," Lack said. "It may be that the timing and balance of skin and oral exposure to a particular food early in life determines whether a child develops an allergy or tolerance to that food."
About 2 percent of U.S. children are allergic to peanuts, according to the news release.
More information
The American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology has more about peanut allergy (http://www.acaai.org/allergist/allergies/Types/food-allergies/types/Pages/peanut-allergy.aspx ).
SOURCE: King's College London, news release, Oct. 21, 2014
by Dennis Thompson

Could Air Pollutants Raise a Child's Autism Risk?

Chromium, styrene implicated in preliminary study
FRIDAY, Oct. 24, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Children exposed to two air toxins -- chromium and styrene -- while in the womb and during the first two years of life may have increased odds of developing autism, according to a new study.
Prenatal and early exposure to the highest amounts of chromium, a heavy metal, increased the risk for autism by 65 percent, said researchers from the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health.
Styrene, found in car exhaust and industrial emissions, doubled the risk for the neurodevelopmental disorder, the investigators found.
Autism spectrum disorders -- a range of conditions involving social deficits and communication difficulties -- affect one of every 68 children in the United States, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"These findings are preliminary," said lead researcher Evelyn Talbott, a professor of epidemiology. She also cautioned that the study results show an association between exposure to these airborne chemicals and autism, not proof that they actually cause autism.
"We don't know what causes autism," Talbott said. "We have little information on risk factors. This is just one more piece of the puzzle."
Styrene and chromium might trigger a person's genetic predisposition to autism, Talbott said.
"More and more, people are believing in gene/environment interactions," she said. "We do know that about 10 percent of autism spectrum disorders run in families."
Another autism expert said this link needs to be pursued.
"This study may take us one step closer to getting out of the guessing game. It brings us back to considering chemicals," said Brandon Korman, chief of neuropsychology at Miami Children's Hospital Brain Institute in Florida.
The unanswered question, Korman said, is what causes one child to develop autism when another child does not, even though they are exposed to the same pollution.
The findings of the study were presented Wednesday at the American Association for Aerosol Research annual meeting in Orlando, Fla.
For the study, Talbott's group interviewed 217 families of children with autism spectrum disorder. The researchers compared them with two sets of families who had children without autism spectrum disorder born during the same time period and within the same six counties in southwestern Pennsylvania.
For each family, the team used the U.S. National Air Toxics Assessment for 2005 to estimate exposure to 30 pollutants known to affect the brain, glands and hormones.
Of all the chemicals in the environment, styrene, chromium and, to a lesser extent, cyanide stood out as most associated with autism spectrum disorder, the study concluded.
Styrene is used in the manufacturing of plastics and paint, the authors said. Chromium gets into the air through industrial operations, power plants and the hardening of steel. Cyanide can be found in industrial emissions and car exhaust.
Whether these chemicals are responsible for a particular type of autism is something Talbott would like to investigate. Also of interest, she said, is whether greater exposure increases the odds of developing the condition.
The data and conclusions of research presented at meetings are typically considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed medical journal.
More information
For more about autism, visit the U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/autism/detail_autism.htm ).
SOURCES: Evelyn Talbott, Dr.P.H., professor of epidemiology, University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health; Brandon Korman, Psy.D., chief, neuropsychology, Miami Children's Hospital Brain Institute; Oct. 22, 2014, presentation, American Association for Aerosol Research annual meeting, Orlando, Fla.
by Dennis Thompson

Dark Days Here for Folks With Seasonal Depression

Expert offers tips to compensate for reduced light exposure
FRIDAY, Oct. 24, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- October's shorter, darker days can trigger a type of depression, known as seasonal affective disorder, according to an expert.
People affected by seasonal affective disorder, also called SAD, may feel overly tired, lack motivation and even have trouble getting out of bed. In extreme cases, SAD can lead to suicide, said Dr. Angelos Halaris, a professor in the department of psychiatry and behavioral neurosciences at Loyola University Chicago Stitch School of Medicine.
"Seasonal affective disorder should not be taken lightly," Halaris said in a hospital news release.
Seasonal affective disorder affects up to 5 percent of the population, Halaris said. It's linked to a reduction in light exposure from shorter days and gray skies, which is thought to cause a chemical imbalance in the brain.
SAD season starts in October and lasts until the middle of April. Until then, there are ways to reduce your risk for the condition, advised Halaris. He said the following strategies might help:
Get outside. Spend at least 30 minutes a day outside. Avoid wearing sunglasses during this period of time. If weather permits, expose the skin on your arms to the sun. Let light inside. Keep your home well-lit. Open curtain and blinds to allow sunlight in. You can also consider buying a high-intensity light box specially designed for SAD therapy. Sit near the box for 30 to 45 minutes in the morning and at night. Be sure to talk to your doctor before attempting this type of light therapy on your own, Halaris cautioned. Exercise. Physical activity releases endorphins and other brain chemicals that help you feel better and gain more energy, Halaris explained. Exercising for 30 minutes daily can help. Consider medication. When all else fails, there are medications that can help ease the troubling effects of SAD. Halaris recommends visiting a mental health professional if extra sun exposure, indoor lights and exercise are not effective in treating your symptoms.
More information
The National Alliance on Mental Illness provides more information on seasonal affective disorder (http://www.nami.org/Template.cfm?Section=By_Illness&Template=/ContentManagement/ContentDisplay.cfm&ContentID=23051 ).
SOURCE: Loyola University Health System, news release, Oct. 20, 2014
by Dennis Thompson

Multiple Drug Use Raises Infection Risk for 'Swinging' Couples

Researchers cite need for safe sex practices
FRIDAY, Oct. 24, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Multiple drug use put couples who "swing" at increased risk for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), a new study shows.
Swingers are defined as heterosexual couples who have group sex, swap partners and/or visit sex clubs for couples. Researchers looked at 289 people, average age 49, in the Netherlands who said they were swingers and visited an STD clinic between 2009 and 2012.
Half of the participants said they'd had six or more sex partners in the last six months, and had not used a condom during vaginal sex. More than half said they'd had group sex during the same time, and half of them did not use condoms.
One quarter of the men reported having sex with other male swingers in the last six months, according to the study published Oct. 23 in the journal Sexually Transmitted Infections.
Overall, rates of chlamydia and/or gonorrhea were 13 percent, but no other STDs were present among the participants.
The researchers found that 79 percent of the swingers said they used erectile dysfunction drugs and recreational drugs such as cocaine, LSD, methamphetamines, marijuana, laughing gas and alcohol, and that 46 percent reported multiple drug use.
Recreational drug use (other than alcohol and erectile dysfunction drugs) was associated with high-risk sexual behaviors in men and women, while drug use was only independently associated with STDs in female swingers, especially those who took part in group sex.
"Drug-using populations are a target for interventions that address the practice of safer sex along with secondary prevention of drug use," the researchers wrote.
More information
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention explains how to prevent sexually transmitted diseases (http://www.cdc.gov/std/prevention/default.htm ).
SOURCE: Sexually Transmitted Infections, news release, Oct. 23, 2014
by Dennis Thompson

Teens Who Dine With Their Families May Be Slimmer Adults

Study found eating meals together once or twice a week was tied to lower risk of becoming overweight
FRIDAY, Oct. 24, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- For those teens who try to avoid spending time with their parents and siblings, new research suggests that sitting down for family meals might help them stay slim as adults.
Despite everyone's busy schedules, researchers found that just one or two gatherings around the kitchen table each week were well worth the effort.
"There are numerous distractions that could keep families from having family meals. However, this study shows that even trying to have a few family meals a week could be beneficial for guarding against overweight and obesity in adulthood," noted study author Jerica Berge, an assistant professor in the department of family and community medicine at the University of Minnesota Medical School, in Minneapolis.
Using data from a 10-year study involving more than 2,000 teenagers, the researchers examined variables that could affect young people's weight, such as diet and physical activity. The teens were asked how often they sat down for family meals. The researchers also recorded each teen's body mass index -- a measurement that determines whether a person is a healthy weight for their height.
After a decade, 51 percent of the teens involved in the study were overweight and 22 percent were obese overall, the study published recently in the Journal of Pediatrics found.
The researchers noted that when the study began, 15 percent of the teens said they never ate family meals. Of those teens, 60 percent were overweight at the 10-year follow up and 29 percent were obese.
Meanwhile, among the teens that reported eating between one and five family meals per week, only 47 percent to 51 percent were overweight a decade later, and 19 percent to 22 percent were obese.
So, how do family meals help prevent weight gain? The protective effect is likely due to a combination of factors, according to Berge. "Although we don't know exactly why having family meals is protective, family meals may provide a combination of activities such as opportunities for healthful eating, connection among family members, creating a supportive environment for emotion regulation and a sense of security that give children the ability to regulate their own eating behaviors in their day-to-day lives," she explained.
Research has shown that American children and teens sit down for an average of about two to four family meals per week, according to Berge. She noted this includes breakfast and lunch, as well as dinner.
Another study Berge conducted, which was published earlier this week in the journal Pediatrics, found that calm, positive family meals might help a child avoid becoming overweight or obese.
One expert noted that her clients are really trying to carve out time for family meals.
"The '50s were the epitome of the family meal," explained Kristi King, a clinical dietitian at Texas Children's Hospital in Houston. "As society became more fast-paced, we found ourselves drifting away from the family meal time. Now, in practice, I see families very much wanting to try and slow down and reinstitute the family meal on a regular basis."
For busy families, having just one family meal is a great place to start, Berge pointed out. "It may not matter which day of the week it occurs or that it is the dinner meal. The important thing is to start making family meals a regular occurrence," she said.
Limiting distractions can also help, advised King.
"Just one meal can give families the opportunity to 'check-in,' but that is assuming technology takes a backseat during meal time," she said. "Kids learn by watching their parents. So parents should set the example they wish their children to follow. Try having the whole family disconnect for 30 minutes during meal time and actually having a conversation."
King also pointed out that meals at home are typically lower in calories and contain more fruits and vegetables.
While the study found an association between family meals and a lowered risk of obesity in adulthood, it did not prove a cause-and-effect relationship.
More information
The U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute provides more information on how to prevent obesity (http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/obe/prevention.html ).
SOURCES: Jerica Berge, Ph.D., M.P.H., assistant professor, department of family and community medicine, University of Minnesota Medical School, Minneapolis; Kristi King, M.P.H., R.D., clinical dietitian, Texas Children's Hospital, and clinical instructor, pediatrics, section of gastroenterology, hepatology and nutrition, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston; Sept. 29, 2014, Journal of Pediatrics

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